Why is Sleep so Important?
Optimising sleep is incredibly important especially for supporting our immune system, allowing our bodies to properly detoxify, restore cognitive function, enhancing daytime energy and overall vitality. Hence without adequate sleep, especially chronic lack of sleep (considered less than five hours a night) increases the chances of catching a cold around 4.5 times compared to people who get at least seven.
Adults aged 18 - 64 need between 7-9 hours per night with teens and younger children needing slightly more and the elderly a little less which equates to spending approximately one-third of your life sleeping!
Without adequate sleep, health can quickly deteriorate, presenting as mood changes and fatigue, then to slower reaction times, increased risk of accidents, a reduction in work productivity, poor memory and cognitive function as well as exacerbations in chronic pain.
Eat for sleep
Having a lighter well balanced meal at dinner time will help catch those Z's when your ready for bedtime. Making sure your plate has some quality lean protein, complex carbs and healthy fats which will maintain your satiety levels, avoid a sugar crash in the middle of the night and help prevent you from going to bed feeling hungry.
Ensure that you have a good source of protein, so that your body has enough tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is required for the serotonin pathway. This neurotransmitter is mostly made in the gut and is believed to be responsible for regulating mood, appetite and carbohydrate cravings, digestion, memory and of course sleep. Good sources include pumpkin seeds, sprouted soybean, cooked oats and white beans.
Other good foods to try include tart cherries which have shown to help promote good sleep due to their high melatonin content, magnesium rich foods including broccoli, dark leafy greens, salmon and cocao. Think crispy skin salmon on a bed of cooked buckwheat, with some lightly sautéed dark leafy greens topped with extra virgin olive oil and sesame seeds, YUM!
Ideally your last meal should be at least 3 hours before bedtime. Skip processed sugary desserts & opt for a small cup of herbal tea like chamomile, lavender or a calming brew, I like Organic Merchant restful tea. By keeping hydrated throughout the day rather than trying to get your 2L of water up too close to bedtime will help minimise the need to urinate during the night.
Try to stay away from stimulants and avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day (or all together if you know you're sensitive to it) as well as any alcoholic drinks before bed. That glass of wine may help you get to sleep but it shouldn't be used as a sleep aid, it's not doing you any favours.
Your bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary, so audit your space. Be critical of cleanliness and check closely for mould and dust mites. It's recommended to rotate your mattress every 6 months and prioritise investing in a new good quality one around every 8 years. This may seem excessive but remember a third of your day is (or should) be spent here. Regularly change your pillow and opt for natural bamboo, organic cotton or hyper-allergenic sheets if you are prone to allergies or skin irritations.
Creating an atmosphere that helps catch those Z's means no bright lighting, instead opt for warm natural lighting as use an eye mask if your blinds don't block out street lights or sun (if you're a shift worker). Avoiding the blue light that comes from TV's, tablets, laptops or phones which suppresses melatonin production (your sleep hormone). Switching electronics off or to aeroplane mode to minimise EMF's (electromagnetic fields). Keep noise to a minimum, so remove ticking clocks, and buzzing electronics or use ear plugs to block out noisy neighbours or streets. Ensure your room is a comfortable temperature, I prefer leaving a window slightly open so that the fresh sea breeze flows in and prevents the room feeling stuffy.
Set a regular Sleep-Wake Schedule
This means aiming to get to bed around the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. If possible, you should try to get to bed before 10pm as the most restorative deep sleep occurs before midnight. When you wake up in the morning expose your eyes to as much natural light as possible, as this helps set your circadian rhythm, your body's internal clock that tells you when you need to go to sleep and wake up. Long daytime naps should be avoided if possible and if really sleep deprived not exceed an hour.
Exercising regularly promotes restful sleep, overall well-being and vitality. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes each day, ensuring it's an activity that you enjoy and avoid any vigorous physical activity too close to bedtime. I find a gentle yin yoga practice a nice way to finish the day, de-stress and prepare my body for a restful slumber.
Relax & Unwind
Have you ever hear of the term sleep hygiene? It's a term natural health care practitioners often use to describe your daily bedtime routine. This involves creating a small set of practices that get your body prepared for sleep. The more you do it the more your body adapts to these 'sleep triggers' meaning you'll get to sleep quicker once your head hits the pillow. So, set aside some time before bed to de-stress, avoiding anything too stimulating.
Your sleep hygiene ritual could start with a warm bath with essential oils, listening to some relaxing music, some easy reading and some breathing exercises, light stretching, mindfulness or meditation. Apps like Mindspace are often helpful to get you started, but choose one that you like.
If you feel particularly anxious or stressed try writing in a journal or drawing for 15 minutes to get the thoughts out and clear your mind. Jot down the next days tasks so the morning doesn't become overwhelming, lay out your clothes ready for school or work and pack your lunch so it's ready to go. While its good to have some self-reflection avoid negative judgements, anxiety-promoting thoughts and work-related topics. This is not the time to be paying bills and worrying about deadlines. If you don't fall asleep within 20 minutes, don't lie in bed awake. Instead, get out of bed and do something calming for 20 minutes or until you feel tired and try again.
Nutritional approaches to poor quality sleep aim to identify and target the underlying causes, whether it be stress, hormonal, under-nutrition or lifestyle factors etc. Learning how to implement sleep hygiene and optimising nutrition to improve sleep latency, duration and overall quality can have profound effects on all areas of health, well-being and overall longevity.
If you think you could benefit from finding the root cause to better sleep, book an appointment with me today :)